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If you are really lucky then, once in a lifetime, something will happen that changes your life or the lives of those around you. I've been fortunate enough to experience that twice. Maybe even three times! I don't mean in the sense of winning the lottery, or some other personal experience, but rather in my work life.
The first experience was when I joined Hitachi in April 1989. Hitachi was proceeding with a controlled withdrawal from manufacturing 63xx based microcontrollers which had been made under license from Motorola until the license agreement was withdrawn, for reasons I'm not party to. That isn't the story though. When it was clear that we would have to inconvenience customers by stopping manufacturing of a popular MCU line up, Hitachi's response was to hire a large team of engineers and task them with designing a completely new, next generation of microcontrollers. What followed retained the key benefit of the 63xx families they succeeded, namely electrical compatibility between OTP (one time programmable) and mask devices. This made prototyping much simpler than before when you had to wait for working samples from the mask production before you could start evaluating prototypes. And, at a time when engineers were deserting complex assembly language for the convenience of higher level language programming techniques, they introduced a register based architecture that enabled much more efficient interrupt processing and hence code efficient and fast to execute structured programming. Followed in the early 1990s with a world beating flash technology which to this date has never seen a field failure that we are aware of.
The H8 delivered so many benefits it became the MCU of choice in many applications. At its peak in the late 90s we were delivering more than 1M pcs per month for use in motor control in PC drives. They were the microcontroller of choice for one of the earliest smart meter programmes to which we shipped more than 30M devices alone. And many many other applications. That it achieved such wide acceptance was to confirm the benefits it offered for engineering communities. Did it change their lives? Maybe that's too strong a claim. But it certainly enabled designers to do things previously not possible.
I mentioned two other life changing innovations. The next was the invention of TFT colour LCD displays. I still remember calling customers and offering “a demonstration of a new colour display which offered unrivaled high contrast, unbelievable viewing angles and....full colour!” There was no customer refusing a visit! I was fortunate to secure the first customer design-in in Europe with whom I made my first business trip to Japan to see TFT displays being produced. That's what can happen when you deliver life changing technology, products and solutions.
In the years that followed, Hitachi merged with the semiconductor businesses of Mitsubishi and latterly NEC, both of whom possessed great MCU line ups in their own right. Once again we had some incredible claims.....the world's largest MCU company by a long long way, our own flash technology offering the highest performance (zero wait state access at 120MHz), a 40nm process enabling exceptional integration (up to 8MB on chip flash) and our own 300mm manufacturing lines ensuring the highest quality.
Around the same time, many other silicon vendors stopped investing in their own CPU core developments and started licensing ARM technology for general purpose MCUs. Gradually customers started choosing what they perceived as a "standards based" ARM core rather than proprietary cores, regardless of the benefits the latter could offer. We could write a lot of text on whether ARM based microcontrollers are truly standards based, but let's leave that for another place. The fact was that more and more customers requested them. Some would even say ARM commoditised the market, driving prices to historical lows. Great for customers, but not so good for a company with microcontrollers as a core business.
It was time for a rethink. We talked to customers about better proprietary cores, but most applications didn't require higher performance. We talked about more integration, but the majority of systems had enough memory and peripheral options available on chip. Maybe this was our first clue that the future didn't lie exclusively in the hardware. But we didn't recognise it at the time.
In the early days of 2013, I was assigned to a small team in Renesas Electronics Europe to discuss our future microcontroller strategy. It was clear something had to change. The inclusion of ARM cores was almost inevitable due to the growing clamour from customers. But we knew this would change nothing on its own....there were already more than ten other ARM MCU vendors in the market (a number that has recently reduced substantially due to a number of mergers & acquisitions). We had to find something completely innovative.
During our subsequent meetings we consulted with a number of key customers about the daily challenges of their design teams. What became clear was that the microcontroller was not going to be the only focus in the future. The designer’s challenge was now in software, test + integration, communications, security..... Hastened by the spectre of the Internet of Things.
So our project began. And what a project! Not only designing the most intercompatible families of ARM based MCUs, but also a massive software platform comprising over 1M lines of code and representing some 200 man years of development time, a truly convenient toolchain and many other innovations. We call it the Renesas SynergyTM Platform. It's a game changer. You can start programming at the API, reduce your time to market, save money along the way and spend time on what you do best - innovating!
That's what this book is about....helping you take your first steps with the Renesas SynergyTM Platform. It might just change your life too!
Director, Core Marketing
Renesas Electronics Europe
PS. You can purchase the Synergy S7G2 starter kit from RS Components and download your own free copy of the book here (where you will also find video tutorial, code examples etc.).